Thursday, September 10, 2009

χρηστομάθεια or ἀνθολογία?

"It seems to me that the real task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them." - Michel Foucault

Now, I'm not going to say that rjmr's reasoning is "faulty", but rather that it is "informed, or should I say misinformed, by the conventionalized positivist paradigms that center on such outmoded empirical notions as…" (OK, now even I'm getting sick of the "Deconstruction Breakfast Food Product." No more…I PROMISE…)

Shall we take a trip into the RTB "retrospective-stream-of-consciousness" rabbit-hole?

rjmr: "Within a discourse community if we are speaking of something of value which we need to define (for example we are both stakeholders), the opinions we have should not be flights of fancy."

RTB: Ummm…we all come into conversations adhering to discourses that inform our perceptions, none of those perceptions being the same (tot sententiae quot homines). Social construction of reality within a discourse community has less to do with defining meaning and more to do with negotiating meaning. And lest we forget, Wegerif (2006) posits that the source of meaning "is to be found not in the figures or in their backgrounds but in the difference between the two because it is the boundary around a figure that makes it exist as a thinkable thing." (p. 145) . Are you remembering this, kiddies? There _will_ be a quiz later….

rjmr: "We would hope that each contributing member of the community has done their part to be thoughtful and can back up their opinion using reason to the fullest extent possible."

RTB: Ahhh…nothing like the smell of fresh logocentrism in the morning! Could you please define reason for us?

rjmr "I heart the scientific method" medley:

  • Within the discourse community the definition (i.e. description of reality) that finally becomes accepted should be that which can best be defended by supporting scientific information
  • As a condition of membership into the category science, DA must reach its conclusions in a certain way: it must have its own social-scientific method.
  • I would now define science using your phraseology: a field of inquiry whose claims exist in terms of reasonable support.
  • any two claims may be judged against one another by comparing their supporting evidence.
  • (In response to “Requiring your version of scientific, empirical evidence, without acknowledging other viewpoints, shuts down communication.") "No, it simply limits communication to that which can be supported. As noted by Casie, this happens all the time in academia. If you write a paper filled with unsupported ideas, it is unlikely to get published. Hence, communication is shut down.

RTB: OK, I think we get that you profess an objective epistemology, and that is certainly one way of looking at the world...can I share another with you?:

  • "Myths can be produced by the same sorts of methods and held for the same sorts of reasons that now lead to scientific knowledge"
  • "Competition between segments of the scientific community is the only historical process that ever actually results in the rejection of one previously accepted theory or in the adoption of another"                          -Thomas Kuhn

Let me elaborate…

On the level of [D]iscourse, the scientific method depends upon a negotiated set of skills within a community of practice and rests on agreement within those communities, so not only is the social determination of scientific knowledge possible in spite of the scientific method…the scientific method itself is a social construct, and the output from the scientific method is constructed knowledge, not discovered truth. The "truth" gets to be told by the "champions"… those who find themselves within the "dominant discourse" of the age. 

Recent example: is Pluto a planet? It was 10 years ago…..

On the level of [d]iscourse, scientific experiments depend upon framing the terms of the argument, the kinds of questions one asks, and the hypotheses that are proposed which depend in large part upon one's relation to the object[s] of study. Seems pretty "squishy" to me (as opposed to Educational Research: The Hardest Science of All…).

So, in the end, the scientific method is just one discourse among many. You of course want to privilege your discourse, which is easy to do…science is a huge cash cow, and where there is money there is power. You have to know that there are other discourses that live to resist the one you want to privilege…that criticize the workings of the scientific community as neither neutral nor independent; that attempt to unmask the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through science in order to fight it…(before you think it, five names: Oppenheimer, Nobel, Kevorkian, Mengele, Rascher).

rjmr (in imagined response): "How do you compare two arguments before you? Or are they above comparison?"

RTB: This is a perfectly valid question for someone coming from an epistemology of objectivism to ask…but it is a question that rings false in the ears of someone coming from an epistemology of relativism, which may explain the lack of response.

Let's use your blog title as an object lesson.....

Chrestomathia is a fitting title for an objectivist: from the Greek χρηστός (better) and μανθάνω (learn or understand). It is used in philology to describe a book with a sequence of texts used as exempla, to demonstrate the "development" or "perfection" of a language over time. This fits in nicely, IMHO, with a scientific view of the evolution of scientific thought.

If I had created a blog from scratch for this course, I would likely have named it Anthologiai from the Greek ἀνθολογία from ἄνθος (anthos, “flower”) + λέγω (legō, “I gather, pick up, collect”). These were originally collections of small Greek poems and epigrams, because in Greek culture flowers symbolize the finer sentiments that only poetry can express. There need not be an overarching rhyme or reason to the inclusions, arrangement, etc...and if there was intent in any of these, it is of no matter...what matters is how the discursive community of practice receives and perceives the scent of each flower adds to the bouquet, how they interact and resonate with each other and with the researcher.  Bakhtin held that the meaning of discourse is not "reducible to the intentions of the speaker or to the response of the addressee but emerges between these two." (Holquist, 1981, pp. 429–430) Wegerif explains that "the way in which each generation of scholars re-visits and re-interprets textual fragments from ancient Greece is used by Bakhtin to illustrate his claim that there can be no final or fixed interpretation of an utterance."

Having had what I'll call a "near-miss" with a career in the hard sciences, I think I can empathize with the sentiment that this kind of investigation is not for everyone. One must be comfortable with loose ends, with ambiguity, with participation and the “holistic” view of things. Those who come from disciplines that have their roots in the traditional scientific method feel uneasy with research that relies on the personal factor in which the main form is socializing and the main instrument is the researcher. Hopefully, I've done my part to demonstrate that all research instruments are culturally mediated and that what social scientists do (my world view) presents a “picture of reality, of life as it exists in time and space” (Neisser, 1976, p. 2). 

Postscript: On a completely different note (the note that sounds something like "I don't heart discourse that ain't talkin' or writin'), might I recommend Chapter 4 (entitled "Discourse in Activity and Activity as Discourse" by Shawn Rowe) in Rebecca Rogers' An Introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis in Education (2004).......

BTW, the answer to the question in the post title is "yes".